Cori Brooke is the guest presenter at the QLD Literary Competition Award

October 20th, 2015
As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we asked Joanna Francis, author and illustrator of Lucia and Lawrence, to write about her inspirations behind the characters in the book and how understanding yourself and your friends better, leads to positive mental health and life-long connections. 

I think one of the most rewarding things for a writer is to know that their audience has connected with the characters and story that they’ve created, and I am thoroughly delighted that this may be the case with Lucia and Lawrence. This quirky duo and their special friendship seems to have resonated with many different people, I suspect, because we all have a little bit of Lucia or Lawrence in us.

When writing this story, it was important that I was able to express what I believe to be one of the essential ingredients to a happy life - connection - especially the connection shared between friends. We live in a throwaway society, where people and relationships are often discarded as easily as objects. 

We all know friendships can be challenging and tricky to navigate when you have two people who are essentially very different. It is much easier to have a friend who is like you and agrees with everything you do and say, especially when you are a child. But learning to embrace someone’s differences, and even seeing these differences as a strength, can transform a friendship through the power of understanding, and bring rewards we may never have anticipated.

This is the message I wanted to share when writing Lucia and Lawrence, and one that is close to my heart, as the story and characters are based on my own journey with one of my dearest friends. I am definitely the Lucia in this union: outgoing, passionate and creative, loving that combination of girly girl and tomboy. My friend is more like Lawrence: introverted, cautious and very intelligent, with socks, crocs and an old brown jumper that he wore until it fell apart. Despite being very different we have learnt to respect and value each other, especially for the qualities we don’t share.

I have found that despite being very quiet and shy, my friend is no pushover. Like Lawrence in the story, he can say no when he doesn’t want to do something, even though he may fear the reaction he gets. Like Lucia, I found this hard at first, as there were things I wanted to share in our friendship that he didn’t. Gradually I accepted my friend’s right to say no, and to respect him for it. You don’t have to be loud and forceful to be strong. 

Like Lawrence, my friend can be honest to the point of being insulting, another trait I found difficult to cope with at first. Now that I understand he is not trying to be mean, his honesty is something I have grown to value, even if my feelings occasionally get hurt. Conversely like Lawrence, he will listen to my passionate opinions and endless story telling, drawing up the plans for the crazy ideas I have and helping to make them a reality. We are a very special team because of our differences, and the mutual respect and understanding we have for each other. However, I’m still waiting for him to make me a pair of wings!

One of the highlights of this whole journey was when I was asked to exhibit Lucia and Lawrence at the Western Australian Literacy Centre. This incredible organization has displayed the amazing works of some of my literary heroes, and to know my paintings were pinned beside the great Shaun Tan was just so exciting.

I was also touched when they asked if they could take the book on a tour of the local schools as sharing this story with children is what this is all about for me.

In fact, reading Lucia and Lawrence to over 2500 school students has been the most wonderful experience. Watching the children’s faces as I read my story with them has been so rewarding, as has hearing the ways they feel they have connected to the characters. One beautiful school I visited had set up a reading area to resemble both children’s bedrooms and told me that they had a little boy just like Lawrence at their school, and when he got upset they would count to soothe him.

I’ve also had many amazing teachers share the experiences they’ve had with students who have autism or ADHD and how they can see these traits in my characters. Similarly, a number of autism groups have contacted me to say they have shared this book with their own children who have found Lawrence to be a positive role model. They appreciated how he could be himself and also find a way to connect with Lucia, and how encouraging it was for children with differences to know that there was someone out there who would love them for who they are.

Being a mother and a teacher myself, I know how this applies to all children - and to adults as well. That to be recognized and accepted for who we are is essential for our mental health, and also the greatest kindness we can show to each other.

This is the message I hope comes through In Lucia and Lawrence. That when we accept another for all their quirks and differences, we don’t only build their self-esteem with our acceptance, but enrich our own lives as well. 

Lucia and Lawrence

Lucia is creative, and Lawrence loves numbers. Can they find a middle ground and stay friends?
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